SALT LAKE CITY – The University of Utah gymnastics team competed in front of a Huntsman Center crowd for the first time in 651 days Friday night, showcasing this year’s routines at the annual Red Rocks Preview. With 32 hit routines on the night, Utah competed eight on each event and saw action from all four freshmen.
“The biggest thing for Red Rocks Preview is to get out in front of a live audience,” said head coach Tom Farden. “There are a lot of new routines, a lot of new combinations we wanted to try, and some freshmen, obviously, to see who are jockeying for those ‘sacred six’. That is really what it is on this team with some of the depth we have on a couple of events.”
Although Utah will have several 10.0 start-value vaults during the 2022 season, Utah began the night with the lineup primarily competing Yurchenko fulls to follow this year’s training plan. Highlighting the rotation was the return of junior Jillian Hoffman, who has battled injuries during her first two seasons and led off tonight’s event with a high-flying full. Cristal Isa also stuck a Yurchenko full to add to the rotation, while the entire lineup looked on pace to be ready to debut more difficulty in the season opener. Returning vaulters included Alani Sabado, Cammy Hall, Jaedyn Rucker, Lucy Stanhope and Alexia Burch, while the Utes added more difficulty with Grace McCallum’s vault.
“We’ve done this with vault before where we are a little conservative and don’t throw the 10.0 vaults. That was a little bit of a strategy today to wait on those,” said Farden. “Jimmy (Pratt) has attacked the amplitude and the quickness to the table. He is a really good vault technician, great with the athletes and has a great demeanor.”
The uneven bars also showed glimpses of improvement from last season with newcomers Amelie Morgan, Sage Thompson and Grace McCallum all adding excellent routines to the mix. Along with the strong routines from the freshmen, Maile O’Keefe showed why she is the reigning national champion on the event and looked as if she was postseason ready.
Beam continues to be a strong rotation for Utah this year with veterans O’Keefe, Isa, and Abby Paulson holding down the back half of the lineup tonight. World-class beam worker Kara Eaker displayed a phenomenal routine in her Huntsman Center debut, while Morgan also led off the group with a strong effort. The Utes added strong routines from Adrienne Randall, Stanhope and McCallum as well.
“We missed some handstands on bars and we haven’t worked too hard on sticking dismounts since it’s early to start addressing some of that stuff, but the handstands you can never get too good at. Overall, pretty happy with bars today.” said Farden. “On balance beam, we have a couple new leap series and new dismounts. There were a couple of breaks, but nothing overwhelming. I thought they did really good.”
The Red Rocks closed out the intrasquad on floor, debuting eight new routines. The floor lineup began with a pair of strong routines from Paulson and Jaedyn Rucker, which were then followed by an artistic and powerful routine from Eaker, who seemed as if she had competed in the Huntsman Center for years already with her poise and control. NCAA floor champion O’Keefe continued to impress as she had all night, while four-time floor All-American Sydney Soloski closed out the top-six in her well-known anchor position seamlessly. The Utes ended the night with routines from Adrienne Randall and Lucy Stanhope.
“Floor has a lot of ‘E’ passes and tons of difficulty,” said Farden on the final event. “I thought the presentation was better today than we have seen in the gym. The biggest thing with floor is you want to make sure they get to their last pass and don’t land short. They were strong through the finish and you want to make sure you prepare them well for the cardiovascular part of floor exercise.”
No. 4 Utah gymnastics will open the 2022 season at the Rio Tinto Best of Utah on Friday, Jan. 7, at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah. The quad meet between No. 4 Utah, No. 19 BYU, Utah State and No. 25 Southern Utah will begin at 7 p.m. MT and will be televised on BYUtv. Utah’s home opener is set for Friday, Jan. 14, against No. 3 Oklahoma. The Utes and Sooners will battle at 7:30 p.m. MT live on ESPN2.